McAdam: As players press, offense stalls

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McAdam: As players press, offense stalls

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

CLEVELAND -- In the course of analyzing the Cleveland Indians' approach to Josh Beckett Tuesday night, manager Terry Francona indirectly got to the real cause of the Red Sox' 3-1 defeat to the Indians, their fourth in a row to begin the season.

"Give them credit," said Francona. "They did a really good job grinding out at-bats. They did it better than we did."

Indeed, while Beckett was needing 106 pitches to get through five innings, Josh Tomlin pitched seven innings and needed only 91 pitches. While Beckett labored through some at-bats that appeared endless, Tomlin enjoyed three innings in which he faced just three hitters and one other in which he faced four.

From the third inning through the eighth, the Sox collected just one hit -- a leadoff single by Dustin Pedroia in the fourth quickly erased by a double-play from Adrian Gonzalez one hitter later. The Sox didn't get another hit until Pedroia added a one-out single in the ninth.

Boston had just three baserunners in scoring position all evening.

It wasn't hard to figure out what was going on. After being outscored 26-11 in Texas last weekend, Red Sox hitters evidently tried to get it all back with one at-bat.

Gone was the careful approach with which the Red Sox usually operate, wearing down the opposing pitcher by working the count and forcing him to throw the ball over the middle of the plate.

Instead, an impatient Sox' attack was overly aggressive, resulting in ground balls being pounded into the infield or hit meekly into the air. The same lineup which scored 10 runs in the first two games in Texas has now been limited to just two runs in the last 20 innings.

The starting pitching, which failed to keep them in the first two games has gradually gotten somewhat better. The offense, meanwhile, has unmistakably gotten worse.

If it's not one thing, it's another.

"We're swinging at stuff out of the zone," acknowledged Pedroia. "We're anxious. Everyone wants to do good. That's what happens when you see a lot of check swings."

Gonzalez, who has cooled after piling up five hits in the first two games, pled guilty to impatience after an 0-for-4 night.

"We did a really poor job of being selective and getting good pitches to hit," he said. "We're just going to have to get better at that."

Francona has tried juggling the lineup with little to show for his shuffling. He stuck with Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who had been hitless over the first three games with 10 strikeouts, and was rewarded with a run-scoring single in the catcher's first at-bat.

But the middle third of the Boston lineup -- Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz -- was a combined 0-for-9 with three walks.

Six of Boston's regulars are hitting under .200 through the first four games.

Were this the middle of the season, the offensive skid could be written off as the byproduct of a long season, part of the natural ebb and flow of the 162- game grind. Nothing to see here folks, move along.

But because the slump is happening in the first week of a season in which expectations are almost impossibly high, the problem gets magnified. Correspondingly, the players, eager to turn things around, grind their bats into sawdust rather than grinding out at-bats.

Then there's some plain bad luck. In the ninth, with a hint of life against closer Chris Perez -- first and third with two outs -- Ortiz flicked a liner toward the left field foul line. But the Indians had Austin Kearns inexplicably shaded that way and Kearns needed only to take a couple of steps to stab the ball for the final out.

"I put a good swing on it," shrugged Ortiz. "There's nothing much you can do about it. I was surprised the left fielder was playing there. He got there easily. I guess that was one of those magical moments coaches who position fielders get right. What else can you do? Nothing. I did what I was supposed to do - put a good swing on the ball. That's about it."

The lineup is too good to continue failing like this. Ortiz and Gonzalez knocked in 100 runs each last year and Youkilis undoubtedly would have reached that milestone too had he not missed time with a thumb injury. Crawford gives the Sox another athletic table-setter to go with Jacoby Ellsbury and Pedroia.

"When you're facing this kind of situation," said Ortiz, "you definitely want to get the first one out of the way. That's how things get started. Everybody's trying; probably some of us are trying too hard. That's baseball, though - you want to make things happen."

Right now, however, they're not. And everybody knows it.

Pedroia predicted that the onslought is coming. The lineup can't be bottled up for ever.

"Once we settle in though, it's going to be good," vowed Pedroia. "It's going to be good stuff."

But just four games into the season, the losses and the frustration mounting, time is of the essence.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

Farrell on Sox rotation: 'We've got to get Clay going'

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Farrell on Sox rotation: 'We've got to get Clay going'

BOSTON - Maybe it wasn't a warning shot, but more of an idle observation. Maybe it wasn't a challenge at all.

But what John Farrell had to say Sunday afternoon about Clay Buchholz was, if nothing else, noteworthy.

In assessing his team's play in the just-completed first month of the season, Farrell noted that the starting rotation, after a particularly rough beginning, had stabilized of late.

With one exception, that is.

"We've got to get Clay going, particularly," Farrell said. "He's an important part of our rotation, an important part of this team. We've got to get him on track." Buchholz is winless in his five starts, with an 0-3 mark and an inflated ERA of 6.51. He's given up a minimum of five earned runs in each start and has yet to pitch through the seventh inning.

Farrell noted that the issue has been less about quality of stuff and more about his aggressiveness - or lack thereof.

"There are times,'' Farrell said, "when we've seen Clay execute pitches with, I think, a greater conviction to the pitch. There are other times where maybe he's pitched away from contact a little bit too much and not attacked the strike zone. To me, there comes an attitude on the mound that's got to be prevailing."

The Sox aren't far from welcoming back to starters. Eduardo Rodriguez, who tweaked his knee in early March, is set to make his second rehab start for Pawtucket Tuesday and could conceivably return five days after that. At most, Rodriguez will be ready with one more additional outing.

Next up is Joe Kelly, who is on the DL with a shoulder impingement. Kelly has thrown some bullpen sessions and could begin a rehab assignment later in the week.

That will lead to the Sox making some tough decisions in the coming weeks. It had been widely assumed that knuckleballer Steven Wright would be he most vulnerable starter, but Wright is 2-2 with a 1.37 ERA in four outings.

Asked to assess where the Sox within the context of the division, Farrell said: "We're probably searching to shore up areas that are in need, and that first starts with making the necessary adjustments with the guys that are on our roster now. Not that we're going to make wholesale changes. Like I said, we've got to get Clay going. That's a big improvement that we could make."

 

AL East picture through April: Red Sox better than expected

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AL East picture through April: Red Sox better than expected

BOSTON -- With the first month of the season at coming to a close, Boston finds itself half a game behind Baltimore for first place and 2.5 games ahead of the third place Rays.

With the question marks surrounding the pitching staff behind David Price entering the season, among other issues, the Red Sox are in a much better position than initially expected.

John Farrell credits much of the early success to his potent offense.

“[We] finished better than we started I think the biggest thing is that guys in our lineup have developed that trust in one another,” he said. “There [are] some elements to our offense that’ve been very encouraging. The all-field approach and the way we’ve run the bases [have] been very consistent.”

It’s undeniable that the newfound consistency to the pitching staff has been a huge help -- although Farrell did note Clay Buchholz needs to get the ball rolling.

“The last two turns through the rotation has been more consistent. We’ve been able to give our guys in the bullpen a little bit more regular rest,” Farrell said. “I like the fact that we’ve added to the depth of power arms in our bullpen. We still have room for improvement we know that.

Entering the final game of the opening series against New York, the Red Sox and the Orioles are the only AL East teams with winning records against their inter-division rivals.

Even though they’ve performed better than anticipated, a case can be made that the Red Sox should sit in first place.

Tampa Bay shut them out in the opener, and won the final game of the series that was powered by a rare David Price implosion.

Toronto won the final two games of the second season series by the skin of its teeth, narrowly avoiding Red Sox comebacks in the ninth inning of each game.

Baltimore won the first game of its opening series in Boston thanks to a ninth inning home run.

New York has one game left before both teams leave town and, weather permitting, Boston has a chance to start May off properly -- by disposing of the only team in the AL East stuck with single digit wins.

With the ups and downs for the five AL East teams, Farrell doesn’t expect there will be disparity in the division.

“Every team has got their strengths,” he said. “We don’t expect this to be a huge separation among any of the five teams here. We’re all probably searching to sure up areas that we’re in need of. That first starts with making the necessary adjustments with the guys that are on our roster right now. Not that we’re going to make wholesale changes.”